ARP Synod Exonerates Two Elders Who Had Sued the Church

ARP Synod sustains judicial decisions of lower courts exonerating two elders

The Minority Report having failed as a substitute motion, the Majority Report of the committee was again before the Synod. After a short period of debate, the Majority Report was adopted. This effectively ends any possibility of the men who sued the ARP Synod from being brought under discipline.

 

Background

In 2009 the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) General Synod voted to reorganize the board of Trustees for Erskine College and Seminary by removing roughly half of the board members. In response to this, one Teaching Elder and one Ruling Elder within the bounds of Second Presbytery sued the denomination. Charges were filed against the two men, Greenville ARP Ruling Elder Richard Taylor and TE Jay Hering (then a professor at Erskine Seminary). Second Presbytery’s Minister and His Work Committee admonished TE Jay Hering, appearing to begin the process of discipline, but the presbytery refused to bring TE Hering under discipline. The Session of Greenville ARP likewise refused to discipline Richard Taylor. Eventually, both cases were brought to the ARP Synod’s Judicial Commission on Ecclesiastical Affairs, which reported to Synod this year.

The Commission’s Recommendations and the Minority Report

The Commission gave its report to Synod on Wednesday, June 12. The report was striking brief. Chairman David Smith read the report in its entirety, which stated that the committee had met twice via teleconference, and that the commission found Second Presbytery’s refusal of discipline to Hering and Taylor neither irregular nor unjust.

The report gave no factual bases or argumentation for its findings and recommendation. This lack of evidence or basis for the commissions finding was brought to the attention of the Synod by ruling Elder Eric Ruschky of First ARP, Columbia, a former federal prosecutor. As the chairman presented the report, he explained that the commission thought it was only asked to rule on the cases procedurally, not to adjudicate them.

Two members of the commission, TE Tim Phillips and TE Rick Barnes, filed a dissenting opinion, which the Synod allowed to be read as a Minority Report. The minority report gave nearly four full pages of factual, procedural, and exegetical rationale that showed the mismanagement of the case by the Judicial Commission and the irregular and unjust nature of the actions of Second Presbytery.

The Minority Report recommended three actions: 1) that Synod appoint a special ecclesiastical commission to adjudicate the complaint against Second Presbytery with regard to Richard Taylor and Greenville ARP, 2) that the complaint against Second Presbytery regarding Jay Hering be sustained, and that Second Presbytery be instructed to continue the steps of discipline begun by the Minister and His Work Committee, and 3) that the Synod’s committee on Social and Theological Concerns consider the matter of Christians taking other Christians to a court of law. (The Majority and the Minority Reports are printed below.)

Debate ensued before the vote. TE Matthew Miller of the Greenville ARP Session rose to speak against the Minority Report. He argued that since the new trustee removal policy would have made the 2009 Synod’s attempt to remove trustees without cause illegal, the Synod should forego discipline on these men who sued the church in response to what would now be considered out of order. The vote required a division, and narrowly failed.

The Minority Report having failed as a substitute motion, the Majority Report of the committee was again before the Synod. After a short period of debate, the Majority Report was adopted. This effectively ends any possibility of the men who sued the ARP Synod from being brought under discipline.

INDEX 24
ECCLESIASTICAL COMMISSION
ON JUDICIARY AFFAIRS
2013

Synod’s standing Ecclesiastical Commission on Judiciary Affairs had presented to it for resolution two (2) Complaints against Second Presbytery. Members of the commission through June 30, 2013 are: David W. Smith, Monterey Campbell, Doug Jones, Tim Phillips, Terry Wallace, Rick Barnes, Legrand Payne, Mark Miller, Peter Tae Mun Lee, James Wittke.

The commission met by conference call on January 31, 2013 to review the first of these complaints, dealing with actions of Second Presbytery with regard to the Greenville ARP Session. After review, the commission found that the complaint does not establish basis for finding the actions of Second Presbytery to be irregular or unjust. Therefore the case was dismissed. The commission met again by conference call on February 14, 2013 to consider the complaint against Second Presbytery regarding actions taken by the presbytery on October 12, 2010. After review of the record before it, the commission found that the complaint was not well-grounded in establishing that the actions of Second Presbytery were irregular or unjust. Therefore the case was dismissed.

On behalf of the commission,
David W. Smith, Chairman

INDEX 24A
DISSENTING OPINION
2013

 General Synod’s Ecclesiastical Commission on Judiciary Affairs (ECJA) met twice by conference call to consider two complaints against Second Presbytery. The first of these conference calls was held on January 31, 2013 and considered a complaint against Second Presbytery with regard to the session of the Greenville ARP Church and their handling of a matter involving ruling elder Dr. Richard Taylor. This complaint came to the ECJA by virtue of an adopted recommendation of a Moderator’s Committee on Complaints during the 2012 meeting of General Synod (see 2012 Minutes of Synod, p. 505: “That Complaint 1 (Complaint against Second Presbytery) be referred to the standing Ecclesiastical Commission on Judiciary Affairs”). The second conference call was held on February 14, 2013 and dealt with the actions of Second Presbytery on October 12, 2010 concerning Dr. James Hering, a member of Second Presbytery. This case was referred to the ECJA at the 2011 meeting of General Synod (see 2011 Minutes of Synod, p. 150: “A Complaint from Second Presbytery was referred to the Ecclesiastical Commission on Judiciary Affairs for study and adjudication.”) The end result of both of these meetings was that the actions of Second Presbytery were deemed not to be irregular or unjust; therefore, both cases were dismissed by the ECJA. It is the view of this Dissenting Opinion that the actions of the ECJA are troubling in a number of areas:

  • The Report of the ECJA as submitted to General Synod is far too brief in what it reports. There was much discussion and debate during the two conference calls, which is not reflected in the report. Furthermore, these are not simple matters, as they touch on the correct interpretation of Holy Scripture (in particular, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8); the ordination vows of elders and ministers, and the area of church discipline (the latter which was widely considered to be a mark of the true church in several Reformation-era confessional documents). In addition, it should be noted that the lawsuit filed against General Synod in 2010 – the underlying event that precipitated the complaints – ended up costing Synod roughly $100,000 in legal fees.
  • There seemed to be some confusion on the part of some of members of the commission about exactly what the ECJA was being asked to do in each case and how to do this in an ecclesiastical fashion. For instance, sections of the Book of Discipline with regard to complaints were referenced (specifically, BoD X.E. “Complaints”). However, on multiple occasions during the meetings, language of the secular courts was used by members of the commission, in that the complaints against Second Presbytery were deemed to be a “collateral attack” by those making the complaint. Also, in the first meeting, the lack of a legal “precedent” in the ARP Church was stressed by one member of the commission. Because of this, this member of the commission had researched cases in the Presbyterian Church (USA) for guidance. Two cases were mentioned during this meeting, but without much specific detail. When the minutes of this meeting were emailed to members of the commission, there were also two attachments included – documents of the two PC(USA) cases that were referenced (because of the length of these documents, they have not been included as attachments to this report, but they may be accessed electronically at the following links: http://tinyurl.com/bl5hzye and http://tinyurl.com/cz47734). Both of these “precedents” were rather notorious cases in the PC(USA): the first dealt with a feminist theology conference where paganism was openly promoted; the second dealt with the ordination of a homosexual minister. Both of the cases were dismissed by the PC(USA) equivalent of the ECJA on irrelevant technicalities and therefore should not be considered as possibilities for “precedents.”
  • There may, in fact, have been a similar case in the ARP Church that was not considered for purposes of precedent or direction. In the lawsuit filed by Dr. Taylor, which was one of the underlying reasons for the complaint involving the session of the Greenville ARP Church, one of the co-filers of the lawsuit was Dr. Parker Young, a member of First Presbytery and a ruling elder at the Pinecrest ARP Church. First Presbytery did eventually assume original jurisdiction in the case of Dr. Young and was pursuing a course of church discipline against him (these events are chronicled in the Spring, Summer, and Fall 2011 minutes of First Presbytery). The similarity in these cases was never mentioned during the meetings of the ECJA, even though at least two member of the commission were closely involved in this case in First Presbytery (see below).
  • At the end of the second conference call, when it was announced that a minority report (i.e., dissenting opinion) of the ECJA would be presented to Synod, one of the members of the ECJA responded by attempting to defend the action of presbyters taking ecclesiastical matters to secular courts. In particular the following argument was made:

It is generally agreed among Biblical scholars that the First Letter to the Corinthians was written as early as AD 52 or probably no later than AD 58 while Paul was in Ephesus. This means that Paul wrote this letter several years before he attempted to persuade the Jews in Jerusalem that he was a Jew following the revealed will of God in preaching to the Gentiles. We read in Acts 23:9ff and in Acts 25:2-3 that the religious leaders of the Jews banded together with an oath to kill Paul. Specifically, Acts 25:2-3 says, “Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him [Festus] against Paul; and they petitioned him, asking a favor against him, that he would summon him to Jerusalem – while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him.” See also Acts 25:9-12, “Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?” Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go.” When Paul realized that Festus would take him back to Jerusalem, try him, and possibly turn him over to the Jews [sic] he was not willing to risk being tried by them (an ecclesiastical court), so he appealed to Caesar (a civil court). This occurred around AD 62-64, for we know that several of his epistles from Rome were written around AD 63-65. If Paul, after writing 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, felt that he must appeal to a civil court, then obviously he felt that there had to be exceptions to the rule about never going to civil court with matters that normally would have been tried by an ecclesiastical court.

  • Leaving aside the fact that the “ecclesiastical court” mentioned in the example cited above was Jewish and therefore not a Christian one (and therefore not technically “ecclesiastical”, i.e., pertaining to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ), it should be noted that this statement was given by ECJA member Rev. Doug Jones, and appears to be identical to a paragraph contained in a response submitted by the Pinecrest ARP Church session in defense of Dr. Parker Young (see Minutes of First Presbytery, March 8, 2011, Appendix B, pp. 33-34). According to the minutes of First Presbytery, Mr. Jones was serving as the supply pastor of the Pinecrest ARP Church. It would seem reasonable to conclude, therefore, that Mr. Jones would have knowledge of the case involving Dr. Young. In addition, Mr. Terry Wallace, another member of ECJA, was serving as a member of the Pinecrest session at the time; his name appears as one of the signers of the response of the Pinecrest session (see the March 8, 2011 Minutes, p. 40). It should also be noted that this response by the Pinecrest session was found by the presbytery to be “inadequate and insufficient,” leading the presbytery to assume original jurisdiction and appoint an ecclesiastical commission to adjudicate the case against Dr. Young. None of these events were mentioned during either meeting of the ECJA, and neither Mr. Jones nor Mr. Wallace recused himself. The matter only came to the attention of the minority because of Mr. Jones’ statements quoted above.
  • If the majority report of the ECJA is adopted, it has the potential to create, at the very least, a measure of disunity with the Synod as to how matters of church discipline are handled by the church courts. In both First Presbytery and Second Presbytery, almost identical cases were considered, but with completely different results. If one presbytery considers the actions of a session to be inadequate and assumes original jurisdiction while another does not, this creates confusion in handling such cases in the future. Furthermore, the majority report of the ECJA has the potential to establish some sort of precedent within the Synod – in essence, the decision of one presbytery is supported, over and against the actions of another presbytery. Would adopting the majority report effectively “undo” in some way the actions of First Presbytery? In the view of the minority, such a scenario has not been carefully considered by the ECJA, and therefore extreme wisdom should be exercised by the Synod in these matters. In part, this is not the fault of the majority of the ECJA, but rests with two members who did not adequately report these matters to the rest of the commission.
  • It is uncertain as to whether the ECJA actually followed the directives of General Synod in the case involving Dr. Hering. The complaint was referred to the ECJA “for study and adjudication.” Since the case was dismissed without any contact or consultation with any of the parties in the case, it is very difficult to see how “adjudication” took place.
  • In the opinion of the minority, the merits of each of the two cases were not properly considered. When the issue of lawsuits within the church was mentioned during discussions, it was repeatedly stated that the ECJA was not to discuss the charges against Dr. Taylor and Dr. Hering, but only whether Second Presbytery had acted in an unjust or irregular manner. It is very difficult to ascertain whether an action was irregular or unjust if the underlying cases could not be discussed. It was suggested at various times that the different parties in the cases could be met with and interviewed, but these suggestions were not acted upon by the commission. According to BoD X.D.9 (cf. X.E.5), “when a higher court has decided that an appeal is in order and that it should be considered by the court,” one of the procedures to be followed is the “hearing of the parties.” This did not take place in either of the complaints given to the ECJA for its consideration.
  • The minority disputes the conclusions of the majority that the actions of Second Presbytery were not irregular or unjust. In the case of Dr. Taylor, none of the documents given to the ECJA indicate that church discipline in any form was ever considered, either by the Greenville ARP Church session or by Second Presbytery. For example, the language of “admonition” or “exhortation” does not occur in the documents given to the ECJA. In the opinion of the minority, it is not clear as to how two issues concerning Dr. Taylor were dealt with by either the session or the presbytery. In particular, the following ordination vow would seem to be an important consideration: “(6) Do you promise to submit in the spirit of love to the authority of the session and to the higher courts of the Church?” If this was not addressed in a disciplinary manner by either the session or presbytery, it is very difficult to see how the presbytery did not act in an irregular manner.
  • In the case of Dr. Hering, there does seem to be the indication that some procedures of church discipline were undertaken by the presbytery, specifically the Minister and His Work Committee (MHWC). In a report from MHWC, it is acknowledged that Dr. Hering was admonished by the committee (see Minutes of Second Presbytery, March 8, 2011, pp. 28-29). This was an encouraging action by the committee of the presbytery, and it does seem to indicate that there was an acknowledgment of wrongdoing on the part of Dr. Herring, since the language of church discipline (“admonished”) is used. Specifically, this report states:

“Further, some brothers have asked what counsel MHWC gave to Mr. Hering that was mentioned in but not spelled out in the Fall [2010] report. Along with other counsel, MHWC admonished Mr. Hering that we believe he should not have attempted to take the matter to civil court; we counseled him that he should have let the providence of God play out through the decision of the body (Synod) and that if he wished to appeal it should have done so through the courts of the church; and we asked him to reconsider his actions in light of our counsel.” What is missing, however, is any indication of how Dr. Hering responded to the admonishment, whether further steps of church discipline (e.g., exhortation) were undertaken, whether Dr. Hering had complied with the committee’s request to reconsider his actions, etc. If there was no follow through on the part of the committee or the presbytery, this would seem to be irregular. A motion was made and seconded during the February 14th meeting of the ECJA: “That the Ecclesiastical Commission on Judiciary Affairs recommend to Second Presbytery to revisit the admonishment of Mr. Herring, if necessary, and to determine if Mr. Hering has reconsidered his paper on 1 Corinthians 6.” This motion was defeated by the ECJA.

  • Finally, the opening paragraph of the Book of Discipline includes this statement: “The purpose of discipline is to bring about the reconciliation of man to God and man to man and to engage the people of God in the ministry of reconciliation, and to promote the peace, purity, and edification of the Church.” Because church discipline was not adequately pursued in these cases, the opportunity for repentance and reconciliation for Dr. Taylor and Dr. Hering is lacking. If they have indeed sinned and have not been confronted in their sin, then there is a negligence of oversight. To deprive a presbyter the opportunity for repentance and reconciliation through the actions of a church court would therefore seem, at the very least, to be an unjust action.

Therefore, this Dissenting Report makes the following recommendations:

1. Whereas BoD X.D.9 was not followed and members of the ECJA did not recuse themselves, that the Moderator of General Synod appoint an ecclesiastical commission to adjudicate the complaint against Second Presbytery involving the Greenville ARP Church session and report back to the 2014 meeting of General Synod, and that this commission be composed of nine (9) members, five (5) of whom shall be teaching elders, four (4) of whom shall be ruling elders, with none of its membership consisting of members of either First or Second Presbytery.

2. That the complaint against Second Presbytery involving Dr. James Hering be sustained and that Second Presbytery be instructed to continue the process of discipline begun by the MHWC in Fall 2010 and mentioned its Spring 2011 report to Second Presbytery.

3. That General Synod refer to the Committee on Theological and Social Concerns the question as to whether it is justifiable for Christians to take other Christians to the secular courts.

Submitted,

Rev. Tim Phillips, Pastor
Midlane Park Presbyterian Church
Member, ECJA

Rev. Rick Barnes
Pastor, Grace Fellowship Church
Member, ECJA

Scott Cook is a student at Reformed Seminary in Charlotte, N.C.